Biden becomes first Catholic veep in U.S. history

Joseph R. Biden, with his wife, Jill, holding the Bible, takes the oath of office as he is sworn in as vice president of the United States. (CNS/Reuters)

Joseph R. Biden, with his wife, Jill, holding the Bible, takes the oath of office as vice president of the United States. (CNS/Reuters)

When the former Delaware senator, Joseph R. Biden, took the oath of office of the vice president of the United States at 11:55 this morning, he became the first Catholic to hold that office in the nation’s history. John F. Kennedy holds the distinction of being the first  — and only — Catholic president in history, but until today no other Catholic man or woman has achieved winning the second-highest office in the land.

A handful of others have tried.

The first Catholic to run for vice president was Edmund S. Muskie, former governor and sitting senator from Maine. He joined Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey’s campaign to succeed Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1968 election. Humphrey had been Johnson’s vice president and the campaign suffered from Johnson’s failed Vietnam War policies and the turmoil of the Great Society. The Democrats lost the election to Richard M. Nixon of California and Spiro T. Agnew, Maryland’s governor.

The election marked Nixon’s triumphant return to politics. His career had taken a bad tumble after his loss in 1960 to Kennedy, the only Catholic to be elected president. Muskie went on to serve as President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state.

The second Catholic to run on a major party ticket was Thomas F. Eagleton, who ran on the 1972 Democratic ticket headed by South Dakota Sen. George S. McGovern. Eagleton, a U.S. senator from Missouri, only ran for 18 days. He was forced off the ticket after revelations about his past hospitalizations for mental health problems surfaced. He was succeeded as the party’s vice presidential nominee by another Catholic, Robert Sargent Shriver of Maryland. A hugely popular political activist, Shriver was first head of the Peace Corps and an ambassador to France. McGovern and Shriver lost in one of the nation’s greatest landslide elections to Nixon and Agnew, who were seeking second terms. Interestingly, Shiver was the last presidential or vice presidential nominee not to have served as a governor or member of Congress prior to nomination.

The fourth Catholic to make it on a national ticket was Geraldine Ferraro, a representative from New York. In 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale achieved the Democratic nomination and asked Ferraro to be his running mate. She was the first woman and the first Italian American to run on a major party national ticket. Mondale and Ferraro were defeated by President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush, who were seeking re-election to a second term.

No other Catholic would nab a place on the national ticket until Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004.

What religious denomination has prevailed in the 44 runs for the vice presidency? Presbyterians top the list, with Episcopalians a close second.

Update: Peter Chila (below) is correct. New York Congressman William Miller ran for vice president on the 1964 ticket headed by Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. They were trounced by Johnson and Humphrey.

Interestingly, Miller hailed from the same state that gave America its first Catholic to run at the head of a national ticket. New York Gov. Al Smith was the Democratic nominee for president in 1928. He overwhelmingly carried the Catholic vote, but it wasn’t enough to defeat his opponent, Herbert Hoover, who won by a landslide.

Miller had the distinction of representing two New York districts in Congress, and he later went on to become chairman of the Republican Party. New York, of course, went on to contribute another Catholic candidate: Geraldine Ferraro.

Thank you, Mr. Chila.

12 Responses

  1. Biden is not a practicing. He endorses and works for the destruction of human life.

    To Proclaim Jesus Christ is to Proclaim Life. JPII

    VP Biden does not proclaim Christ only his self interest.

    Just the Facts

  2. If my memory serves me correctly, William Miller (Representative) from New York State was a Catholic who was the Vice-Presidential nominee with Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 on the Republican ticket.

  3. Unfortuantly he isnt a good example of being a Roman Catholic. From where I stand there are reasons to excommunicate him.

  4. Theo and Joe are exactly right. Biden is not a practicing Catholic. His contumacious public advocacy and support of abortion are an affront to Catholic teaching and should bar him from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

    It is likely that a day from now, on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, that President Obama will issue executive orders authorizing embryonic stem cell experimentation and permitting U.S. funds to be used world-wide for abortion and contraception. I believe the bishops of this nation have a duty to call Biden to public account with declared latae sententiae excommunication for those who reject Christ and His Church, including not only Biden but also Pelosi, Kennedy, Napolitano, and many other so-called “Catholics”.

    If this is the “era of responsibility” that Obama proclaims, it starts with high government officials and bishops.

  5. In failing to heed the teachings of the Church and the Catechism through his support and endorsement of infanticide and abortion Joe Biden has excommunicated himself. Now as a senior public official, his excommunication should be made equally public and formal. He is an embarrassment to all the faithful and continuing to label him as a “Catholic” only validates other Catholics In Name Only (CINO’s) in their disobedience. Calling him a Catholic is scandalous until he repents and changes his position. I call for his full public excommunication from the Catholic Church, Canon 915 applies.

    Write a letter to Bishop Loverde at the Diocese of Arlington to express your concerns over this scandal and its potential damage to the faith.

    The Office of the Bishop
    200 North Glebe Road
    Arlington, VA, 22203
    Phone: 703-841-2500

  6. Peter Chila, who posted earlier, is well served by his memory. New York Congressman William Miller was the first Catholic nominee for vice president of a major party. I’ve updated the blog post above.

    Thanks, Mr. Chila, for noting this omission. History and this editor are grateful.

  7. I say we pray for the conversion and change of heart of all our “progressive” Catholics in politics who have succumbed to the “grey”.

    Its understandable what everyone is saying here but the truth of the matter is that we have poorly catechised politicians serving our country.

    I think someone should take up a collection and get some used or reduced price catechisms and send every politician who isnt practicing a copy?

    Just a thought.

    For Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi underline the part about life.

    Respectfully and with a little humor to with no disrespect to life.

  8. I agree with Holly. Excommunicating Biden, Pelosi and the rest of the so called “Catholics” does not serve us well. Our enemies (And we have many) would have a field day!
    Rather, as Holly says we should make it very public that we send all these people Catechisms to teach these people what they need to believe to call themselves “Catholic”

  9. I wonder what The Media will report on The Pro-Life Marches in Washington and San Francisco this week!!!!

  10. a lot of people say thier this or that. I dont thank a catholic news service should call him catholic. only he says he catholic. to publicly hold him accountable for the nonsence he preaches about life issuse. HOW CAN THE CHURCH NOT HOLD HIM TO ACCOUNT
    REMEMBER THE WORDS BIDIN SPOKE( SO HELP ME GOD)………………NOT GOOD

  11. Prior to Nov 08 there were two parties vying to elect their candidates. One was Pro Life the other Pro choice . The Catholic Church said nothing about the candidates until we helped elect a Pro Choice Candidate.Now we refer to the VP as a Catholic ! What a bunch of Hypocrites we are… why can’t we tell it like it is !

  12. in the spirit of “hope”, lets us pray this legislator, now executive, recognizes why the Church in pennsylvania rightly denied him communion

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